"Oh," said she, "I suppose they have a separate heaven, just as the dogs have."
"No doubt you're right," he agreed, smiling, "but think how bright the dogs are as a rule."
"Bobby Rigby says a dog is worth more than his master. People will steal a dog, he says."
"I saw him at your house last night. Did you meet Mr. Harbert?"
"No. Mother said he came in with Bobby."
"How is Mrs. Cable this morning? I think she—er—complained of a sick headache last night?"
"She has such a frightful headache that she couldn't get up this morning."
"Indeed? Will you carry my respects and sympathy to her?"
"Thank you, yes. But why don't you come in and see us, Mr. Bansemer?"
"In a day or so, gladly."
Bansemer was not approached by Harbert that day nor the next—nor any other day soon, in fact. It was not until after the third day had expired that he heard from Mrs. Cable. Her silence was gratifying and significant; it meant that she was struggling with herself—that she had taken no one as yet into her confidence. He was too wary to feel secure in his position, however. He abandoned every case that could not be tried in the cleanest light and he destroyed his footprints in those of the past more completely than ever. David Cable was disposed to be agreeable when they met, and Rigby's manner had lost the touch of aloofness. Altogether the situation did not look so dark as it had on the night of the blizzard.
He guessed at Mrs. Cable's frame of mind during the three days just past by the tenor of her message over the telephone. She did no more than to ask him to drop in before five for a cup of tea; but he saw beyond the depth of her invitation.
He went and had a few minutes alone with her because he was shrewd enough to drop in before five. No one else came until after that hour had struck. He was studiously reserved and considerate. There was nothing in his manner to indicate that he was there as anything more than the most casual sipper of the beverage that society brews. It was left for her to make the advances.
"We must come to an understanding," she said abruptly. "I cannot endure the suspense, the uncertainty—"
Bansemer raised his brows with grave condescension.
"Then you have not confessed to Mr. Cable?" he asked, with perfect unconcern. "Do you know, I was rather hoping that you would have saved me the trouble of doing so."
"It means so much to—"
"Ah, I see you find it hard to lose the ground you have gained socially." He stirred his tea steadily.
"It isn't that—I don't care for that. It's for Jane and David. I can only offer to buy your silence; nothing more," she said with hurried words. "I own shares in the railroad; they're worth twenty thousand dollars. Will you take them?"
"My dear," he said, leaning quite close to her, "I am not seeking to blackmail you as you seem to imagine. I have only tried to tell you that I love you."
"Oh," she exclaimed, with a shudder of disgust. His face was quite close to hers; she could feel his warm breath on her cheek and she drew away quickly. His hand hovered close to hers as it lay in her lap.
There was an eye-witness to this single picture in the brief scene. Jane had started downstairs. From the upper steps she could look into the drawing-room below. She could not help seeing Bansemer's fervent attitude; she heard nothing that he said. The girl paused in surprise; a feeling as of dread—she could not explain—crept over her. A chill struck into her heart.
It was as if she had awakened from a sweet sleep to look out upon a bleak, horrid morning.
Involuntarily she shrank back, quite beyond the actual vision but not free from it. She stood straight and tense and silent at the top of the stairs, her hand clasping the rail. She could hear her heart throbs plainly. There was no mistaking the picture as it had burst upon her unsuspecting eyes. With a quavering smile she tried to throw it from her. But cold and damning there arose to support her apprehensions the horrid stories of Mrs. Blanckton and her affair with Rellick. With her own eyes she had seen Rellick talking to Mrs. Blanckton just as Bansemer was talking to her mother in the dim doom below. The Blanckton scandal, as everyone knew, was one of the most infamous the city had known. Jane, with other girls, had been shocked by the boldness of the intrigue; she had loathed Rellick for his unprincipled love-making; she had despised and denounced Mrs. Blanckton. Here now was her own mother listening just as Mrs. Blanckton had listened; here was James Bansemer talking just as Rellick had talked. A great fear, a dark uncertainty, welled up in her heart.
It was not until the butler admitted other callers that she found the courage to turn her eyes toward the drawing-room. She was never to forget the dread that grew with the thought of what she might have seen had she remained a voluntary witness during the minutes which followed her first look below. That single vision effected a sharp, complete change in Jane Cable's life. From that moment she never saw the world as it had appeared to her before.
Although she succeeded in, hiding the fact, it was difficult to approach and greet James Bansemer with the naturalness of the unsuspecting. His manner was beyond reproach, and yet, for the first time, she saw the real light in his black eyes. She talked to him as if nothing had happened to make her distrustful, but no self-control in the world could have checked the growth of that remorseless thing called suspicion. For her own sake, for her mother's, for Graydon's, she tried to put it down. Instead, it grew greater and stronger as she looked into his eyes, for in them she saw the light that heretofore had escaped her notice.
And this was the father of the man whom she was to marry, the one whom she loved with all her heart and soul! This, the man who would degrade her own mother! Her mother—she looked at her with a new question in her eyes. She looked for the thing which had marked Mrs. Blanckton. It was not there, and she rejoiced in that discovery. Her mother did not possess the bold, daring, defiant air of the other woman. Hers was tender, sweet, even subdued; the girl clutched hopefully at this sign and began to build upon it.
Half a dozen people came and went. James Bansemer was the last to leave. He met the girl's tense, inquiring look from time to time, but he could not have felt its meaning. There was nothing in her voice which might have warned him, although it sounded strained and without warmth on her own ears. In spite of herself she wondered how he would act in saying good-bye to her mother. Although she tried with all the might of her will to look away, she could not take her eyes from the pair as Bansemer arose to depart.
His manner was most circumspect. The handclasp was brief, even formal and there was no look in his eyes to indicate the presence of anything but the most casual emotions. After his departure, Mrs. Cable turned to Jane and complained of a frightful headache and went to her room to lie down for a while before dinner. Jane's gaze followed her steadily as she ascended the stairs. Then she walked to the window and looked out upon the street, a hundred perplexities in her mind.
Her father was standing in the middle of the sidewalk, looking down the darkening street. His cab was turning the corner below, showing that he had been standing there for longer than a minute. She watched him with interest. What had happened in the street to hold his interest so closely? It was Jane who opened the door and let him in. As she kissed his cold cheek she noticed the frown on his brow and caught the strange gleam in his eyes. His greeting was less warm than usual, and he went to his room upstairs without removing his hat or coat below. But not before he sent a quick, keen glance about the drawing-room to find if James Bansemer had been the single visitor of the afternoon.
"Where is your mother?" he asked from the stairs, without looking back.
"She has just gone to her room," Jane replied, a chill shooting through her veins. Some strange, unnatural impulse compelled her to add, as if the explanation were just and necessary: "We have had a lot of people in drinking tea, and mother has a headache."
She watched him ascend the steps and turn into his smoking-room. The door closed sharply and a wave of inexplicable relief rushed over her. Her hands were cold. She went to the fireplace and held them out to the blaze. Her ears were alert for sounds from above—alert with a strange fear which choked her with its persistence. She dreaded the opening of her father's door and his footsteps as they crossed to her mother's room. She waited for these sounds, minute after minute, but they did not come. The fire would not give warmth to her hands; the chill seemed to spread. In her new consciousness she felt that a tragedy was just begun.
Cable saw Bansemer leave the house as he drove up to the curb in front. The lawyer did not look back, but turned the nearest corner as if eager to disappear from sight as quickly as possible.
Closing the door of his smoking-room behind him, David Cable dropped wearily into a chair without removing his hat or coat. His blood was running cold through his veins, his jaw was set and his eyes had the appearance of one who has been dazed by a blow. For many minutes he sat and stared at the andirons in the ember-lit grate. From time to time he swallowed painfully and his jaw twitched. Things began growing black and green before his eyes; he started up with an oath.
He was consumed by the fires of jealousy and suspicion. The doubt that had found lodging in his mind so recently now became a cruel certainty. Into his grim heart sprang the rage of the man who finds himself deceived, despised, dishonoured. He was seeing with his own eyes, no doubt, just what others had seen for months—had seen and had pitied or scorned him as the unfortunate dupe. With the thought of it he actually ground his teeth; tears of rage and mortification sprang to his eyes. He recalled his own feelings in instances where shame had fallen upon other men; he recalled his own easy indifference and the temptation to laugh at the plight of the poor devils. It had never entered his mind that some day he might be the object of like consideration in others more or less fortunate, according to THEIR friends.
By the time dinner was announced he had succeeded in restoring himself to a state of comparative calmness. He did not dress for dinner, as was his custom, nor did he stop to ask Frances Cable if she were ready to go down. He heard Jane playing the piano as he descended. She nodded to him, but did not stop and he paused near the fireplace to look at her strangely. Somewhere back in his brain there was struggling, unknown to him, the old-time thought that this child bore him no likeness whatsoever. He only knew he was crushing down the fear that evil or slander or pain might come to her, if he were rash yet just. He was wondering if he could face his wife without betraying himself.
Jane played softly, lifelessly. She, on the other hand, was wondering what Graydon would think or say, if she spoke to him of what she had seen. She wondered if he would blame her mother as she was beginning to blame his father.
"Mother won't be down to dinner," she finally said.
"Is she ill?" he asked after a moment.
"She is lying down. Margaret will take some tea up to her."
Father and daughter had but little to say to each other during the meal. Their efforts at conversation were perfunctory, commonplace, an unusual state of affairs of which neither took notice.
"You look tired, father. Has it been a hard day?"
"A rather trying one, Jane. We're having some trouble with the blizzards out West. Tying up everything that we are rushing to the Philippines."
"Is it settled that you are to be made president?"
"It looks like it." There followed a long silence. "By the way, I have good news for you. Mr. Clegg told me to-day that they are going to take Graydon into the firm. Isn't it great? Really, it is quite remarkable. You are not the only person, it seems, who thinks a lot of that boy."
"A partner? Really? Oh, isn't it glorious? I knew he could—I told him he'd be a partner before long." She waited a moment and then added: "His father was here to-day for a cup of tea." Cable caught the slightly altered tone and looked up. She was trifling with her fork, palpably preoccupied.
"I'm—I'm sorry I missed him," said he, watching her closely.
"You like him very much, don't you, father?"
"Certainly—and I'm sure your mother does." The fork shook in her fingers and then dropped upon the plate. She looked up in confusion. Cable's eyes were bent upon her intently and she had never seen so queer a light in them. Scarcely more than the fraction of a second passed before he lowered his gaze, but the mysterious telegraphy of the mind had shot the message of comprehension from one to the other. He saw with horror that the girl at least suspected the true situation. A moment later he arose abruptly and announced that he would run up to see her mother before settling down to some important work in his den.
"Graydon is coming over to-night," she said. "We'll be very quiet and try not to disturb you. Don't work too hard, daddy dear."
Upstairs Frances Cable was battling with herself in supreme despair. Confession was on her lips a dozen times, but courage failed her. When she heard his footsteps in the hallway she was ready to cry out the truth to him and end the suspense. As he opened the door to enter, the spirit of fairness turned frail and fled before the appeal of procrastination. Wait! Wait! Wait! cried the powerful weakness in her heart, and it conquered. She could not tell him then. To-morrow—the next day, yes, but not then. It was too much to demand of herself, after all.
He came in, but left a few minutes later. She was strangely unresponsive to his tender inquiries. Her thoughts were of another, was his quick conclusion as he fled from her presence before the harsh accusations could break from his eyes.
In his den once more, with the door closed, he gave himself up completely to black thoughts. He recalled his words to her, uttered years ago, half in jest and half in earnest; he had horrified her beyond expression by telling her how he would punish a wife if he were the husband she deceived. With a grim, lurid smile he remembered the penalty. He had said he would not kill; he would disfigure the woman frightfully and permit her to live as a moral example to other wives. Slitting her mouth from ear to ear or cutting off her nose—these were two of the penalties he would inflict. He now felt less brutal. He might kill, but he would not disfigure. For an hour he sat and wondered what had been the feelings of his old friend George Driscoll just before he deliberately slew his faithless wife. He remembered saying to other friends at the time that Driscoll had "done right."
This night of black shadows—he did not sleep at all—was really the beginning of the end. He forgot the presidency that was to be handed out to him; he forgot everything but the horrid canker that gnawed into his heart and brain.
Day and night he writhed in silent agony, a prey to the savage jealousy that grew and grew until it absorbed all other emotions. Scandal, divorce, dishonour, murder swept before the mind of this man who had been of the people and who could not condone. The people kill.
For a week he waited and watched and suffered. What he knew of men told him that they do not devote themselves to the wives of others with honourable motives behind them. He convinced himself that he knew the world; he had seen so much of it. The man aged years in that single week of jealousy and suspense. His face went haggard, his eyes took on a strange gleam, his manner was that of a man in grave trouble.
Day after day this piteous, frenzied man who swayed thousands with his hand stooped to deal with the smallest movements of one man and one woman. Despite his most intense desire to drive himself into other and higher channels, he found himself skulking and spying and conniving with but one low end in view.
He employed every acute sense in the effort to justify his suspicions. Time and again he went home at unusual hours, fearing all the while that he might incur the pain of finding Bansemer there. He even visited the man in his office, always rejoicing in the fact that he found him there at the time. He watched the mail in the morning; he planned to go out of nights and then hurried home deliberately but unexpectedly. Through it all he said no word to Frances Cable or Jane. He asked no questions, but he was being beaten down by apprehensions all the while.
His wife's manner convinced him that all was not well with her. She avoided being alone with him, keeping close to her room; he detected a hundred pretexts by which she managed to escape his simplest advances.
At last, overwrought by the strain, he began to resort to cunning—this man who was big enough to have gone from the engine cab to the president's office. It required hours of struggle with his fairer, nobler nature to bring himself low enough to do trickery, but the natal influence mastered. He despised himself for the trick, but he WOULD KNOW THE TRUTH.
The late afternoon mail one day brought to Mrs. Cable a brief letter, typewritten both inside and out. David Cable saw her open and read the missive and he saw her trembling hand go to her throat and then to her temple. Her back was towards him. He could not see her face until she turned, a full minute later. Then it was calm and undisturbed, but her eyes were brilliant. He ground his teeth and tore upstairs without a word. David Cable had stooped low enough to write this letter and he was paying for it.
He knew the contents far better than she knew them. The letter purported to be an urgent appeal from James Bansemer, asking her to meet him at eight o'clock that night. It said: "I must see you to-night. Leave your home at 8:00 o'clock for a short call on Mrs. W—, just around the corner. I will meet you across the Drive, near the sea wall. It is quite dark there. J."
David Cable did not know that earlier in the afternoon James Bansemer had called her up by 'phone to say that he intended to speak to his son the following day, unless word came to him from her; nor, could he have possibly known that she was now determined to tell the whole story to her husband and to trust to his mercy. He only knew that he had written the letter and that he had told her of his intention to go downtown immediately after dinner.
THE TRAGEDY AT THE SEA WALL
The dark, muffled figure of a man leaned against a section of the old wall that edged the lake—the figure of a man who prayed with all his soul that his vigil might be in vain. If she came, all was over.
He was not armed. He had thrown his revolver away a week before. His only desire now was to learn the extent of her duplicity. If she obeyed the call of the letter then there could be no doubt that she was coming at the call of the lover. His hands twitched and he shivered as if with a dreadful chill. His heart was shouting a warning to her, but his head was urging her to come and have done with it all.
He was there early—long before the hour named in the decoy. His eyes never left the sidewalk that ran past his own home, but a short distance from the Drive. They stared without blinking across that dark border, through the circle of light from the arc lamp and far into the shadows of blackness beyond. It was very dark where he stood. The lake had battered through the sea wall for many rods at this particular point and no one ventured out beyond the bridle path for fear of slipping down into the cavities that had been washed out by the waves. His station was on the edge of the piles of stone and cement that had been tossed up to await the pleasure of the park commissioners.
For a while, he tried to take Jane's future into consideration, but it was impossible to substitute anything before his own wrongs. David Cable was not the kind of man who would go on living with a faithless wife for the sake of appearances. He was not an apologist. Time and circumstance and the power of true love would adjust the affair of Jane and Graydon Bansemer. This was HIS affair. Time could not adjust it for him.
At last he saw a woman's figure hurrying down the street. The wild, eager hope that the light from the electric lamp would prove it to be other than that of his wife was quickly dispelled. His worst fears were true, His Frances—his wife of more than a score of years, his pretty sweetheart through all those days, was false to him! As he fell back against the wall something seemed to snap in his breast; a groan of misery arose to his lips.
With eyes which saw red with rage and anguish, he watched the hesitating approach of the woman. She stopped at the corner and looked up and down the Drive, peering intently into the dark shadows by the lake. The sky was overcast; no stars peeped through its blackness. With uncertain, halting steps she crossed the boulevard, still glancing about as if in search of someone. He moved forward unconsciously, almost blindly, and she caught a glimpse of his tall, dark figure. He was not unlike Bansemer in height and carriage. As she drew near, his legs trembled and tears of despair flooded his eyes.
A savage desire to grasp her by the throat and hurl her into the waters beyond the break came over him with irresistible power. Then came the pitiable collapse which conquered the murderous impulses and left him weak and broken for the moment. With a sob he turned and leaned upon the wall, his back to her, his face buried in his tense arms—crushed, despised, dishonoured! Kill her? The horror of it swept his brain clear for an instant. Kill his pretty Frances? Kill Jane's mother? How could he think of it?
It was a long time before the wretched man knew that she was standing close behind him and was speaking to him. The sound of her voice came through the noise of his pounding heart as if it were far away and gentle. But what was it that she was saying? Her voice was angry, suppressed, condemning.
"You may take it or refuse it, just as you please," were the first words his turbulent senses distinguished. "I can pay no more than that for your silence. The other is impossible. I will not discuss it again with you." She paused as if waiting for him to respond.
"To-night I shall tell my husband everything—the whole story. I cannot endure the suspense any longer. I will not live in fear of you another hour. My only reason for coming out here to-night is to plead with you to spare your son and Jane. I am not asking anything for myself. It would break Jane's heart if Graydon should refuse to marry her. You must have a heart somewhere in that—" But the words became jumbled in the ears of her listener. From time to time his mind grasped such sentences as these, paralysing in their bitterness: "I have the letters of adoption.... David will not believe what you say.... He loves me and he loves Jane.... I am willing to pay all that I have to keep it from Graydon and Jane.... But I intend to tell my husband. I will not deceive him any longer.... He will understand even though he should hate me for it. He will love Jane although she is not his own child."
David Cable seemed frozen to the spot. His brain was clearing; he was grasping the full importance of every sentence that rushed from her impassioned lips. The last appalling words fell like the blow of a club in the hands of a powerful man. He was dazed, stunned, senseless. It seemed to him that his breath had ceased to come and that his whole body had turned to stone. His wide staring eyes saw nothing ahead of him.
"Well, what have you to say?" she was demanding. "Why have you asked me to come out here? You have my final answer. What have you to say? Are you going to tell Graydon that Jane is not our child? I must know."
"Not our child?" came from the palsied lips of David Cable, so low and lifeless that the sound was lost in the swish of the water below. The intermittent red signal in the lighthouse far out in the lake blinked back at him, but to him it was a steady, vivid glare.
"Do you hear me? I have lied to my husband for the last time!" There was almost a tone of victory in the voice, now. "Do you hear me? You don't dare! David will not believe you—he will believe my—"
A terrible oath choked back the hopeful words in the woman's throat. Murder had come back into the man's heart.
"Yes, it's David! Liar! Whose child is she? Tell me?"
"David! David! For God's sake, hear me! There was no wrong, I swear it!"
"She's not my child and there's no wrong!" The sardonic laugh that followed was that of a raging maniac. "You've fooled me, you fiend! You devil!"
At that word and with one look at her husband's terribly distorted features, Frances Cable shrank back with a single terrified cry, turned from him and fled madly for her life. With the spring of the wild beast, Cable rushed after her, cursing her with every breath. In a few yards he had almost reached her, his hands outstretched to grasp her neck. But, at that instant, the frightened woman's strength suddenly gave way; her knees received the fall of the limp body. For a second she seemed huddled in a posture of prayer, then toppled over, slipped easily forward through a fissure in the wall and plunged headforemost into the chugging waters below.
In the lives even of the best of men there are moments when the human instincts are annihilated and supplanted by those of the beast. Likewise, have there been instances in which the bravest have been tried in the furnace and found wanting, while conversely, the supposedly cowards have proved to be heroes. Therefore, since no two situations can occur at a different time and yet have precisely similar conditions, it behooves us to forbear judging, lest we be judged, and to approach the following incident in this man's career as if we ourselves dwelt under a covering of glass.
From the time of his marriage up to this moment no man could have fought better the bitter struggle of life than David Cable; yet, now, in this hour—his hour of travail and temptation, he piteously succumbed. Cowardice, the most despicable of all emotions, held him in her grasp.
He sank exhausted against the wall, his eyes fixed upon the black hole through which his wife had disappeared; then, the stony glare changed suddenly to a look of realisation—horrible, stupefying. He crept to the edge and peered intently into the water, not six feet below, his eyes starting from his head.
Black, sobbing water, darkness impenetrable! The instinctive fear of apprehension caused him to look in every direction for possible eye-witnesses. Every drop of blood in his body seemed turned to ice with horror. Down there in that black, chill water lay the body of his wife, the woman he had loved through all these trying years, and he her murderer!
Terrified, trembling, panting, he tried to force himself into the water with the vague hope of saving her, after all; but even as he looked wildly about for help, a shout ready to spring from his dry throat, the natural dread of the accused facing his accuser took possession of him. Fear, abject fear, held him in grasp; he could not shout.
A man was running across the drive towards him—a long loping figure that covered the ground rapidly. With a last horrified look in the water, David Cable, craven for the moment, turned and fled through the night along the broken sea wall—fled aimlessly, his eyes unseeing, his feet possessed of wings. He knew not whither he ran, only that he was an assassin fleeing from the horrors behind.
Over the narrow strip of ground sped the long, eager figure that had darted from the shadow of the homes across the street. In hoarse, raucous tones he shouted after the fleeing man:
"Stop! Wait! Halt!"
He dashed up to the spot where he had seen two figures but a moment before, the full horror of what had happened striking him for the first time. The man was Elias Droom, and he had been an eye-witness to the dim, indistinct tragedy at the sea wall.
His presence is easily explained. He knew of Bansemer's telephone message to Mrs. Cable, together with his threat to expose her on the following morning. It was only natural that she should make a final plea—-that night, of course. The old clerk realised the danger of an encounter between his employer and his victim at a time so intense as this. He could not know that Bansemer would visit the Cable home that evening, but he suspected that such would be the case. It was his duty to prevent the meeting, if possible.
Bansemer would go too far, argued the old man; he must be stopped. That is why he lurked in the neighbourhood to turn Bansemer back before he could enter the home of David Cable.
He saw Mrs. Cable leave the house and go towards the lake. Following some distance behind he saw her cross the Drive and make her way to the sea wall. Slinking along in the shadow of the buildings, cursing his luck and Bansemer jointly, he saw the two forms come together out there by the lake.
"Too late, curse him for a fool," Droom had muttered to himself. "He ought to know this is bad business just now. She's come out to meet him, too. Worse. It's my duty to look out for him as long as he employs me. I'm doing my best and I can't help it if he betrays himself. I'd like to see him—but I can't go back on him while I'm taking money from him. Look at that!"
He chuckled softly as he saw the two figures approach each other. For all that he knew they might be contemplating a fond and loving embrace, and he was not undeceived until he saw one of the figures separate itself, run from the other and go plunging to the earth. As he started up in surprise, the other figure leaned forward and then straightened itself quickly. Droom did not hesitate. He dashed across the street, conscious that something dreadful had happened. His instant thought was that Bansemer had lost his temper and had struck the woman down.
The flight of the man was proof positive. He called him to stop, certain that it was Bansemer. The runner turned his face towards him for a moment. The light from the street may have deceived Elias Droom's eyes, but the face of the assailant was not that of James Bansemer. Droom stopped short and looked after the man, paralysed with amazement. Then he gave a snorting laugh at his own stupidity; of course, it was Bansemer. Who else could it be?
Arriving at the spot where he had last seen the couple, he was amazed to find no one there. He realised, with horror, that the woman must have been struck down; had fallen or had been thrown into the lake.
The gaunt old clerk groaned bitterly as he threw himself upon the wall and peered over into the water. He listened for the cries and struggles of the woman. Gradually his eyes solved the situation. He saw the row of piles beyond the break in the sea wall and the swishing pool inside. Every incoming wave sent a flood of water between the sturdy posts and into the cut of the wall.
Without a moment's hesitation he dropped into this seething prison, confident that the woman's body could be found there. A single glance had shown him that he could crawl upward through the break to safety and he knew that the water below was not dangerously deep.
A minute later he was scrambling out of this angry, icy water, up through the fissure, bearing in his long arms the inert form of Frances Cable. He had found her half-submerged in the pool, every sweep of the waves through the sieve-like posts covering her completely.
He dropped the body on the ground after reaching the level and took a quick shuddering glance about. Two men had stopped on the opposite of the Drive. He hesitated a second and then shouted to them. They stood stockstill in alarm. Before they could respond to his second shout, Elias Droom was tearing the woman's watch from her belt and the rings from her fingers. His strong, nervous hands found the necklace that she wore and it broke beneath their sudden jerk. Cunningly he tossed the necklace upon the ground and trampled it with his heel. The watch and rings went flying across the wall and far out into the lake.
"This woman has been slugged!" he shouted. He did not know how much of the tragedy these men had witnessed. Boldness was his cue for the moment; stealth could follow later. "She's been in the water. I'm afraid it's murder. The man who did it went that way. Yell for the police!"
If the assailant was James Bansemer, Droom was doing his duty by him. If it was another, he was doing his duty by society.
HOURS OF TERROR
Droom's intentions were clear. It was not a tender heart nor was it chivalry which prompted him to do the deed of valour just described. He had started out to do his duty by James Bansemer because he was in his hire; and he felt it still his duty to cover the tracks of his master as best he could. He knew that he was jeopardising his own safety; the obstinate cunning of his nature insisted that the man he had watched was Bansemer, although his brief glimpse of the fugitive's face discouraged that belief.
The gaunt clerk kept his chin well covered with his great muffler; the broad collar of his ulster was turned up about his face. The rapid plan that dashed into his mind comprehended but two things: the effort to restore life to Frances Cable and the hope of escaping without being recognised. He felt that she had not been in the water long enough to drown; every hope depended upon the force of the blow that he imagined had been delivered.
Chilled to the bone, his teeth chattering like castanets, the old man was stooping over the inanimate form on the ground when the two men came up. In answer to their startled questions, he merely said that he had seen the struggle from across the street, but had been too late to prevent the tragedy.
"We must get her into one of these houses quick," he grunted." Take hold of her, you. And YOU over there hurry and ring a doorbell. Get inside and 'phone for a doctor—a doctor first and then the police. We may be able to save her life."
The first of the rich men's homes denied them admission. The man of the house said he would not "stand for the notoriety." Droom, supporting the head of the wet, icy figure, made a remark which the man was never to forget. At the second house they were admitted.
In an instant all was confusion. A card game was broken up and guests of the house assisted their host and hostess in doing all manner of unnecessary things. Droom gave the commands which sooner or later resolved themselves into excited, wrathy demands upon the telephone operator, calls for a certain near-by doctor, calls for the police, calls for stimulants, maids, hot water bottles—everything.
"She's been robbed," said one of the men. "Her rings have been torn off. Look at the blood!"
"She's well-dressed, too," said another. "Say, her face looks familiar—-"
To the amazement of everyone, the lips of the woman parted and a gasping, choking sound issued from between them, a slight shudder swept over her frame.
"She's alive!" exclaimed Droom. "Get these wet clothes off of her—quick!"
The men stood grouped in the hallway while the women tore the wet garments from the reviving victim and prepared a warm bed for her. Elias Droom was edging towards the door, bent on escape, when the awed, chattering voice of the young fellow who had assisted in carrying her to the house arrested him. A great sense of relief crept over him as he listened to the young man's story; his eyes blinked with satisfaction. He was forgetting his own remark of a minute ago that he was freezing and must get into some dry clothes at once. The young man was saying:
"It happened right out there by the sea wall—where the big break is. Harry and I were coming up the Drive and I called attention to a man running south along the wall. Just then, this gentleman ran over from this side of the street and, a minute or two later, we saw him jump into the break over there. Suicide, I thought, but he wasn't a minute coming up. There was the woman! He'd pulled her out! By thunder, it was the bravest thing I ever saw! He—-"
And then it was that everybody began to shower praise upon the man who only had tried to do his duty by the one who hired him to do ugly, not gallant, deeds.
"Did you watch which way the robber ran?" demanded Droom eagerly.
"Lost him in the dark. He ran like fury. You must have scared him off," said the second young man. "I wish we could have seen his face. Did you see it?"
"Not distinctly," answered Droom. "He struck me as being a slim young fellow, that's all." Of one thing he was assured: the evidence of these two men would prove that he had acted as a valiant protector and not as a thug—a fear which had not left his mind until now. They had seen the fleeing assailant, but there was only one person who could identify him. That person was Frances Cable, the victim. If it was not James Bansemer, then who could it have been?
The door opened and an agitated young woman came out.
"It is Mrs. Cable," she cried in trembling tones.
The physician arrived at that moment, and a few minutes later came an officer who had been hailed from the doorway. While the policeman was listening to the voluble young eye-witnesses, Droom stood aloof, puzzling himself vainly in the effort to solve an inside mystery. He had been ready, a few minutes before, to curse himself for pulling the woman out of the water, but now, as the belief grew stronger within him that her assailant was not James Bansemer, his viewpoint changed. If such was the case, there would be no need to fear Mrs. Cable's story if she revived sufficiently to tell it. On the other hand, if it was Bansemer, he had rescued her to an ill purpose. He was conscious finally that someone was speaking to him.
"What do you know of this?" demanded the policeman. Droom repeated his brief story. "What is your name and where do you live?"
"My name is Elias Droom and I live over in Wells Street."
"Could you identify the man?"
"I don't think so."
"What were you doing over in this part of town?"
"Walking up to see the skaters on the park lagoon. But what's that get to do with it? You'd better be out looking for the thief instead of wasting time on me here," snarled Droom. The officer gasped and there is no telling what might have happened, if the captain and a swarm of bluecoats had not appeared on the scene at that moment. Two minutes later they were off scouring the lake front in search of the mysterious hold-up man. Two plain-clothes men remained to question the witnesses and to inspect the neighbourhood in which the crime was committed.
Word came from the inner room that Mrs. Cable was regaining consciousness.
"Does—can she throw any light on the affair?" asked Elias Droom.
"She has uttered no word except her husband's name. I think she is still calling upon him for help, poor thing," said the young woman who bore the news.
"Cable ought to be notified," said one of the men.
"Don't do it over the 'phone," said Droom quickly. "I'm going past his house. I'll stop in and tell him. Let me out, officer; I must get out of these wet garments. I'm an old man, you know."
The probable solution had come to Droom like a flash. As he hurried up the street his mind was full of the theory. He scarcely could wait for the door of David Cable's house to be opened in response to his vigorous ringing. The maid announced that Mr. and Mrs. Cable were out. It was enough for Droom. He put the puzzle together in that instant. David Cable's face was the one he had seen; not James Bansemer's. The maid set up a hysterical shrieking when he bluntly told her of the mishap to her mistress, but he did not wait to answer questions. He was off to find James Bansemer. The volcano he had been watching so long was about to burst, and he knew it.
Forgetting his wet garments, he entered a drug store and telephoned to Bansemer's home. His employer answered the call so readily that Droom knew he had not been far from the instrument that evening. There was a note of disappointment in his voice when Droom's hoarse tones replied to his polite: "Hello!"
"I'll be over in half an hour," said Droom. "Very important business. Is Graydon there?"
"He's just gone to Cable's. Someone telephoned for him a minute or so ago. What's wrong? Do you know?"
"I'll be there in fifteen minutes," was all that Droom would say.
Elias' memory could not carry him back to the time when he had hired a cab. A cab was one of the luxuries he had not cultivated. One can only imagine his surprise, then, when he found himself hailing a passing hansom; and greater the surprise he must have felt when he clambered in and ordered the driver to go in a gallop to a certain place in Wells Street. Ten minutes later he was attired in dry, warm clothes and in the cab again, bound for Bansemer's home. What he said to James Bansemer on that memorable occasion need not be repeated. It is only necessary to say that his host was bitterly impressed and willing to admit that the developments might prove serious. They could only speculate as to what had transpired between David Cable and his wife out there by the sea wall, but it was enough for them to know that a crisis was at hand.
"We'll see what the morning papers say about the affair," said Bansemer, uneasy and cold.
The morning papers were full of the sensational robbery, the prominence of the victim and the viciousness of the attack. Elias Droom read the accounts eagerly as he breakfasted in the dingy little restaurant near his home, bright and early. He grinned appreciably over the share of glory that fell to him; and he actually cackled over the new developments in the great mystery.
He had observed with relief that the name of James Bansemer was not mentioned. The reports from the bedside of the robber's victim were most optimistic. She was delirious from the effects of the shock, but no serious results were expected. The great headlines on the first page of the paper he was reading set his mind temporarily at rest. There was no suggestion of truth in them.
The reader of this narrative, who knows the true facts in the case, is doubtless more interested in the movements and emotions of David Cable than in the surmises of others. It would be difficult, for a certainty, to ask one to put himself in Cable's place and to experience the sensations of that unhappy man as he fled along the dark shore of the lake. Perhaps much will be taken on faith if the writer simply says that the fugitive finally slunk from the weeds and refuse of what was then called "The District of Lake Michigan"—"Streeterville," in local parlance—to find himself panting and terror-struck in the bleak east end of Chicago Avenue. It was not until then that he secured control of his nerves and resorted to the stealth and cunning of the real criminal.
From that time until he stood shivering and white with dogged intention in a theatre foyer, bent upon establishing an alibi, his movements are scarcely worth the details. Between the acts he saw a dozen men whom he knew and he took drinks with several of them. His tremendous will power carried him through the ordeal in a way that could not have fallen to the good fortunes of the ordinary lawbreaker.
Every second of the time his thoughts were of the thing which was being buffeted by the icy waters of the lake. Where was that thing now? How far out into the lake had it been carried?
His body was covered with the cold perspiration of dread and horror. His soul was moaning; his whole being was aghast with the awfulness of the deed; he could have shrieked aloud in his madness. How he lived through the hour in that theatre he never could have told, nor could he believe that he was sitting there with all those frightful thoughts piling themselves upon him. Other people laughed and shouted with happiness; he stared and wept in his heart, and shivered and cringed and groaned within himself.
He had killed her! She had been true to him, and yet, he had taken her life—the life she had given him! He gave no thought to Jane, no thought to Bansemer; he thought only of himself as the slayer.
Would her body be recovered? What would be his excuse, what his punishment? The gallows? A thousand horrors ran riot in his brain, a thousand tremors with each.
But why dwell upon the feelings of this miserable wretch? Why say more of his terror, his misery, his remorse? He held himself in the seat until the middle of the last act of the play. At last, unable to restrain himself longer, he arose and almost ran from the theatre. That instinct which no slayer can control or explain, was overpowering him; it was the instinct which attracts the murderer to the spot where his crime was committed. No man can describe or define this resistless impulse, and yet all criminology records it, clear and unmistakable. It is no less than a form of curiosity. Driven by this irresistible force, David Cable, with bravado that cost him dearly, worked his uninterrupted way to the scene of his crime. By trolley car to Chicago Avenue and, then, like a homeless dog scenting his way fearfully, to a corner not far from the break in the wall.
His legs trembled and his eyes grew wide with dread. The swish of the water came to his ears and he stood still for many minutes, listening for a cry for help from off the shore, but none came; and again skulking alongside the houses of his friends, he covered the blocks that lay between him and the magnetic rift in the wall. Near the corner, he stopped with a start of alarm.
The figure of a man could be seen standing like a statue on the very spot where he had seen her disappear. While he stood there, his heart scarcely beating, the solitary figure was joined by two others. Cable shrank back into the dense shadows. Like a flash it occurred to him that they were searching for the body. A shriek of agony arose to his lips; but he checked it.
Far off on one of the crosstown streets a newsboy was calling an extra—hoarse, unintelligible shouts that froze his blood. He bent his ear to catch the far-away words of the boy: "All about de Nor' Side murder!" He cringed and shook under the raucous shout. He knew what it meant.
A policeman suddenly turned the corner and came toward him. The first impulse was to fly; the next was to stand and deliver himself. The resolution came with shocking unexpectedness. He would give himself up! He would admit that he had killed his wife! The words of anguish were on his lips when the policeman spoke.
"Is it you, Mr. Cable? How is she, sir?"
Cable did not hear the man, for, as he opened his lips to cry out his own guilt, a thought formed in his brain that almost staggered him with its cunning savagery. Why not let the penalty fall on James Bansemer? She had gone out to meet him! If she had not destroyed the note, it would hang James Bansemer, and James Bansemer was worse than a murderer. But even as this remarkable thought rushed into his brain, the last words of the officer began to drive it out.
"Is she going to pull through, sir?" was the next question—and he caught it vaguely.
"Pull through?" he mumbled inarticulately. He leaned against a great stone rail suddenly. Everything was leaping before his eyes.
"Good Lord, Mr. Cable—I—I forgot. Don't you know about it?" gasped the officer.
"Know what?" asked Cable, completely dazed.
"Go home at once, sir. I didn't mean to—oh, hurry, sir. Don't be worried. They say she'll be all right. Sure! She's been hurt a little, sir."
"My daughter?" demanded Cable, as keen as a razor in an instant. His heart was trying to jump from his body.
"Your wife, sir. Nothin' serious, sir. She was held up along here somewhere and robbed. They're sure to get the villain. She—-"
But Cable was off like a deer for his home, racing as though on air.
Nothing else mattered now. She was alive! He could have her with him again to love as he never had loved her before.
DAVID CABLE'S DEBTS
Two days passed before David Cable was permitted to see his wife. During those trying hours he lived an age of agony in suspense. She had been removed to her home late on the night of the "hold-up," as the newspapers felt justified in calling it. He did not go to his office the next day—nor the next—but haunted her door, sleepless, nervous, held close by dread. A dozen times, at least, he sought admittance to her room, but was always turned away, cursing the doctor and the nurses for their interference.
His worst fear, however, was that his wife would not forgive him. Not the dread of exposure, nor his own shame or remorse—not even the punishment that the law might inflict, could be compared to the fear of what might be her life-long hatred. He grew to feel that the doctor, the nurses, the servants looked upon him with strange, unfriendly though respectful eyes. In his heart he believed that his wife had cursed him in their presence, laying bare his part in the unhappy transaction.
At last the suspense became unbearable. He had noticed a slight change in Jane's manner and at once attributed it to something his wife had said, for Jane had been allowed in the sick-room. The discovery that she was not his child had not as yet struck deep into his understanding. In a vague sort of way he realised that she was different, now that he knew, but it was impossible for him to consider her in any other light than that of the years gone by. The time would come when the full realisation would cut into his heart more deeply than now, but at present a calamity of his own making was forcing all other troubles into the background. His greatest desire was to reach his wife's side, to know the worst that could come of his suit for forgiveness.
The evening of the second day he swore that he would see her—and alone. They admitted him and he entered trembling in every nerve. She was lying, white and haggard, in her bed, her back toward him. He paused for an instant and was certain that he saw her shudder violently. It was significant. She feared and loathed him.
"Is it you, David?" he heard her ask weakly. "At last! Oh, I was afraid that something had happened to you! That—-"
He threw himself on his knees beside the bed and wept with all the pent-up bitterness and misery that was in him—and still he was afraid to speak to her. Not a word left his lips until he felt her hand in his hair—a tender, timid hand. It was then that he began pouring forth his cry for forgiveness. With a groan, he checked her own appeal for mercy.
"We can talk about Jane another time, not now," he cried. "I must know that you forgive me—I don't care for anything—nothing else in the world."
When the nurse came in a few minutes later, he was sitting upon the edge of the bed holding her hands in his. Their faces were radiant.
"Please stay out," he said, almost gruffly.
"For just a little while," his wife added gently. The nurse hesitated a moment and then left the room.
Frances Cable told him Jane's history so far as it was known to her. He listened dully.
"She will never know her true parents," said she in the end.
"No, I suppose not," said he, looking out of the window.
"You understand, don't you, David, dear," she said feebly; "how I dreaded to have you learn the truth after all these years, and above all, how I hoped that Jane might never know. I tried every means in my power to buy James Bansemer's silence. It was not money that he wanted, it was..." she buried her head shamefully in her arms; after a moment, she went on: "He professes to love his son, but his is the love an animal gives the offspring it would destroy. And yet Graydon worships him."
"Are you quite sure that Graydon is as unsuspecting as you think?"
"In regard to his father?"
"In regard to Jane."
"Oh, I'm sure of it. He is not a party to his father's schemes. If James Bansemer has not already told Graydon, he never will. It is not his plan to do so; his only object has been to browbeat me into submission. David, it will all come out right in the end, won't it? You'll forgive me?"
"Yes, dear; but this man," and David Cable shook with emotion as he spoke, "will have to answer to me. There will be no more to fear," he said reassuringly; "I'll crush him as I would a snake."
"David, you must not—-"
"Don't worry," he broke in; "I'll attend to him and see that no harm comes to anyone else. That man has no business among honest people."
"But, David, I was not honest with you," she confessed.
"That was a long time ago, and she's as much mine as she is yours. So, what's the odds now? It's a facer, I'll admit, but it can't be helped." It was thus that the man whose anger, only a few hours before had led him almost to crime, now readily absolved her of any blame.
"Poor child, poor child!" she moaned; "it will break her heart. She is so proud and so happy."
"Yes, she's proud. There is good blood in her. I don't wonder now that I used to think she was such a marvel. She's—she's not just the same sort of stock that we are, take it as you will."
"She never must know the truth, David."
"She's bound to find it out, dear. We'd better tell her. It will be easier for her. Bansemer's fangs must be made harmless forever. He shan't bother her. She'd better hear the story from us and not from him."
"But Graydon? She'll lose him, David."
"I'm not so sure of it. She's worthy of any man's love and we must know that Graydon loves her. I'll trust to that. But, first of all, we must put it beyond the power of James Bansemer to injure her in any shape or form. Then, when I go after him—Graydon or no Graydon—he'll know that there is such a place as hell."
"Be rational, David. Let us take our time and think well, dear. I can't bear the thought of the story that will go out concerning me—how I deceived you about Jane for years and years. What will people think of me? What will they say?" she almost wailed.
"Frances," said he, his voice tense and earnest, "that is between you and me. I intend to say to the world, if occasion demands, that I have known from the first that Jane was not our child. That will be—-"
"Oh, David, you CAN'T say that," she cried joyously.
"I shall say it, dear old partner. I shall say that you took her from the asylum with my consent. There is only James Bansemer to call me a liar, and he will not dare!"
"That old man Droom, David—his clerk. The man who saved me—he knows."
"He is in the boat with his master. He DID save you, though. I'll spare him much for that. And I have more to fear from him than you think. Frances, I am sure he saw me night before last down there at the sea wall. He knows—I am morally certain—that you were not attacked by a robber."
"But, David, I WAS robbed. My rings and my pendant were taken by someone. If Droom was the first man at my side—after you—then he must have taken them."
"I can't charge him with the theft," groaned Cable. "He saved your life and he might ruin mine. I would give anything I have to know just how much he saw of the affair. I can't account for his presence there. It seems like fate."
"It is impossible for him to accuse you, David."
"It is not impossible, I'm afraid. He may have seen me plainly."
"But I have described my assailant to the police. You do not answer the description in any particular."
In the next ten minutes the nurse came in twice to caution him against overtaxing her nerves, politely hinting that he should depart at once. There was no medicine, no nursing, no care that could have done her so much good as this hour with her husband.
"It hurt me more than I can tell you, David, when I saw that you were jealous of him. I could see it growing in you day after day, and yet I could not find the courage to make everything clear to you. Oh, how could you have suspected me of that?"
"Because I am a man and because I love you enough to care what becomes of you. I was wrong, I am happy to confess. Forgive me, dear. I can't tell you how terrible the last month has been to me. I can't tell you of the bitter thoughts I have had, nor the vicious deeds I have planned. I was almost insane. I was not accountable. I have much to pay to you in the rest of the years that I live; I have much to pay to my own conscience; and I also owe something to James Bansemer. I shall try to pay all these different debts in the coin that they call for."
"We owe something, you and I, to Jane," said she, as he arose to leave the room.
"A confession and more love than ever, Frances. I love her with all my heart. When you are stronger, we will tell her that she is not our child. We have loved her so long and so well that she can't ask for better proof of our devotion. That terrible thing at the sea wall must remain our secret, dear. To-morrow I shall begin pulling James Bansemer's fangs."
He found Graydon downstairs with Jane. A sharp look into the young man's eyes convinced him that his questions concerning Mrs. Cable and the latest news concerning the efforts to take the bandit were sincere. Cable held his hand for a long time; the firm, warm grasp was that of an honest man. As he stepped out into the night for a short walk over town he wondered, with a great pain in his heart, if Graydon Bansemer would turn from Jane when he heard the truth concerning her.
THE VISIT OF HARBERT
"It's Harbert," said Elias Droom.
"Why didn't you say to him that I am busy? I don't want to see him," said his employer in a sharp undertone. Droom's long finger was on his lips, enjoining silence.
"He said that you wouldn't want to see him, but that it didn't make any difference. He'll wait, he says."
They were in the private office, with the door closed. Bansemer's face was whiter and more firmly set than ever. The ugly fighting light was in his eyes again.
"If he has come here to threaten me, I'll kill him," he said savagely.
"You'll do nothing of the kind," said the clerk with what was meant to be a conciliatory smile. "Meet him squarely and hear what he has to say."
"Do you suppose she has told Cable? He may have sent Harbert here."
"Cable's hands are tied. I know too much. If I were to tell the police what I know he'd have a devil of a time getting the presidency of his road. Besides, they both owe me a vote of thanks. Didn't I have sense enough to make it look like robbery?"
"Yes, but curse your stupidity, they may charge you with the job. Nobody would believe that Cable would attempt to rob his own wife."
"But they would, in any event, decide that he had taken the rings to make it appear like robbery." There was a hard rap on the glass panel. "He's bound to see you, sir."
"Well, then, show him in!" snarled Bansemer.
"Mr. Bansemer will see you, sir," said Droom suavely, opening the door suddenly.
"Thanks," said Harbert shortly. He entered the private office and faced the lawyer, who was standing near his desk. "I've taken advantage of your invitation to drop in and see you."
"This is one of my busy days, Mr. Harbert," said Bansemer, determined to come to the point at once. "However, I hardly expected a social call from you, so it must be of a business nature. What is it?"
"It concerns your son, Mr. Bansemer. I'm here in the capacity of a physician. You must go away for his health." Harbert smiled as though he thought it a good joke. Bansemer turned red and then white.
"I don't quite appreciate your wit, sir."
"My humour, I'd suggest as a substitute. Well, to be perfectly plain, sir, your son does not know the true nature of the malady. He—"
"Do I understand you to say that he really has an ailment?" exclaimed Bansemer seriously.
"It isn't hopeless, my dear sir. My only desire is to keep him from ever finding out that he has a malady. He is sure to learn the truth if you remain here."
"Damn you, Harbert, I understand you now, and I want to say this to you: I'll not drag that boy away from this city. He's successful here and he's one of the most promising young men in town. I'm not going to have him hounded from town to town by—"
"You don't quite understand me, sir. On the contrary, he should remain here. What I do mean to say is this: he won't feel like staying here if the truth about his father is uttered. That's the brutal way to put it, Bansemer, but you've GOT TO GET OUT."
The two glared at each other for a full minute. Bansemer was as white as a sheet—but not with fear.
"Harbert," he said in low tones, "I've half a mind to kill you."
"Don't. You'd hang for it. There are at least a dozen members of the bar who know that I have come here to see you, and they know why, too. See here, Bansemer, you're a scoundrel to begin with. You've always been a knave. How you happen to have a son like Graydon I can't imagine. If I did not know that your wife was a noble, honest woman, it wouldn't be difficult to supply a reason for—"
"Stop! By God, you shall not say a word against my wife! I'll brain you with this weight! You—"
"I have not said a word against her—nor against your son. For her and for him I have the deepest respect. I am trying to protect the memory of one and the future of the other. Bansemer, I believe that I drove you out of New York. You escaped without exposure simply because the witnesses lost their nerve. That won't be the case here. You think you've covered your tracks nicely. You haven't. You've tripped into half a dozen traps. I don't know what your game is with the Cables, but you're base enough to take advantage of your son's position in that home. Don't interrupt! I'll soon be through. I'm a man of few words. If it were not for your son I'd swear out the warrants for you to-day on five different charges. For his sake I'm going to give you a chance. I've worked on you for three years. I swore I'd get you some time. Well, I've got you, and I'm going to cheat myself out of a whole lot of pleasure. I'm not going to smash you as I intended. Your son's friends have prevailed. To show you that I'm not bluffing, I have every bit of evidence in the Burkenday case, the Flossie Bellamy job, the widow Hensmith affair—and it was a damnable one, too—with two or three more. You broke that woman's heart. I don't suppose you know that she died last month. You never noticed it, eh? Her precious coachman is living like a lord on the money you and he took from her. Old Burkenday's housemaid has bought a little home in Edgewater—but not from her wages. The two jobs you now have on hand never will be pulled off. The girl in the Banker Watts case has been cornered and has confessed. She is ready to appear against you. McLennan's wife has had the courage to defy your accomplice—that dastardly butler of theirs—and he has left town, frightened out of his wits. Your time has come. The jig is up. It won't be as it was in New York, because we have the proof. There is a committee of three down in Rigby's office now waiting for me to report. If I take word to them that you expect to sail for Europe next week, never to return to this country, all well and good. It is for your son's good health, bear in mind. If you go, the public may never learn the truth about you; if you stay you will be in jail before you are a week older. And, Mr. Bansemer, you've got to decide DAMNED QUICK."
Bansemer looked his accuser straight in the eye, a faint smile of derision touching his lips, but not his eyes.
"Mr. Harbert, the first thing you have to learn in connection with your patient's father is that he is not a coward. I refuse to run, sir. I am innocent of any intentional wrong, and I'll stand my ground. My son will stand beside me, too; he is that sort. Go back to your committee and tell them that Bansemer will not go to Europe for his son's health. Good-day, sir!"
"Nonsense, Bansemer," exploded Harbert. "You know we've got you fast enough. Why be a fool as well as a knave? You haven't a ghost of a chance. I'm trying to do you a good turn."
"A good turn? Mr. Harbert, I am neither a fool nor a knave. If I were a fool I'd kill you where you stand. I would be justified in killing the man who represents a crowd of blackmailers. That's what you are, sir. I refuse to pay your price. If I were a knave I'd pay it. I want you to understand one thing. I shall stand my ground here. If you persecute me, I'll not stop flaying you until death ends my endeavours. We'll see what justice can give me in exchange for your bulldozing. I will have restitution, remember that. Now, you've nothing more to say to me. Get out!"
"By George, you're a wonderful bluffer."
"Do you expect me to throw you out, sir?"
"It isn't necessary. I've had a change of heart in the last minute, Mr. Bansemer. I withdraw my proposition. By all that's holy, I intend to go after you now without pity. Hang your son's feelings! You won't take my advice. I didn't give it as a friend, because I detest you. It was done in a weak spirit of fairness toward your son and toward the girl he is to marry. Now, I put them out of my consideration. They—-"
Harbert, very red in the face, slammed the door after him and strode angrily through the outer office into the corridor. Droom immediately entered the consultation room.
"Well? What is it?" demanded Bansemer.
"What did he want?"
"He invited me to go to Europe for an indefinite stay. I refused. We'll fight it out, Droom. We have covered our trail better than he thinks. They can't convict me. I'm sure of that. They have nothing but conjectures, and they won't go in court."
"I'm afraid of him, just the same. You're bull-headed about it. Every criminal thinks his tracks are covered until it is too late to cover them properly."
"Curse you, Droom, I'm no criminal."
"A slip of the tongue on my part. Do you know who is down there in Rigby's office with those fellows?"
"An officer, I daresay."
"No. David Cable."
"Cable? Then, his wife has told him everything. Well, I've something to tell, too. By the Lord Harry, Elias, there will be several sensations in high life."
"You don't mean that you'll tell all there is to tell about the girl?"
"No! That's just it! That is one thing I won't tell. If you tell whose blood she has in her veins, I'll kill you like a dog. But, I'll see that Miss Cable is dropped by Chicago society inside of a week. I'm mad, Droom—do you understand?"
"But Graydon loves her."
"He won't love her long. I was a fool to let him go this far—a blind, loving fool. But I'll end it now. He shan't marry her. He has no—-"
"I haven't much of a heart to boast of, Bansemer, but I beg of you not to do this thing. I love Graydon. He doesn't deserve any pain or disgrace. Take my advice and leave the city. Let me call Harbert back."
"No! They can't drive me out! Telephone over and ask Graydon to stop here on his way up this afternoon."
The opening and closing of the outer door attracted their attention. Droom peeped forth. In spite of himself, Bansemer started and his eyes widened with sudden alarm. A glance of apprehension passed between the two men.
"It's that Deever boy from Judge Smith's," reported Droom.
"Tell him to get out," said Bansemer, with a breath of relief.
"I thought it might have been—-" began Droom with a wry grin.
"It is a bit too soon. They haven't had time."
As Droom left the room, Bansemer crossed to the window and looked down into the seething street far below. He saw that his hand trembled and he tried to laugh at his weakness. For a long time he stood there, his unseeing eyes focused on the hurrying masses, his ears alert for unusual sounds from the outer office.
"If it were not for Graydon," he was muttering between set teeth. "God, how I hate to have him know!"
Droom had told Eddie Deever to "get out," but Eddie was there to talk and be talked to, so he failed to take the hint.
"Say, I haven't seen you since you played the hero up in the fashionable part of town. Gee, that was a startler! I'll bet old man Cable rewards you in some way. What's your theory about the hold-up?"
Droom looked up sharply. For the first time there shot into his mind the thought that the breezy boy might be a spy.
"I haven't any," he replied shortly. He was trying to remember if he had ever said anything incriminating to the boy.
"How d' you happen to be over there just at that time?"
"I haven't time to talk about it. Please don't bother me. It happened three days ago and I've really forgotten about it. Don't throw that cigarette into the wastebasket. Haven't you any sense?"
"Gee, you don't suppose I'm going to throw it away, do you? There's half an inch of it left. Not me. Say, I've heard your boss has quite a case on Mrs. Cable. How about it?" he almost whispered this.
"You shouldn't talk like that."
"Oh, you mean that gag about people living in glass houses? Gee, don't worry about that. Chicago is a city of glass houses. A blind man could throw rocks all day and smash a hole in somebody's house every crack. I believe the hold-up man was one of those strikers who have been out of jobs all winter. Smith thinks so."
"Did you see his face?"
"What are you, bub—a detective?"
"Rosie Keating says I'd make a better policeman than lawyer. She's sore at me for taking Miss Throckmorton to Mam' Galli's the other night. Fellow stood on the piano and sang the derndest song I've ever heard. But, gee, I don't think Miss Throck was on. She didn't seem to notice, I mean. Say, on the dead, do you think you could identify that fellow?"
"Look here, boy, if anyone ever asks you whether I'd know that man's face if I saw it again, you just say that I'd know it in a thousand. I saw it plainly."
Eddie gulped suddenly and looked more interested than ever.
"Do you think they'll get him?"
"They will if he talks too much."
"I hope so. Say, how's that new patent coming on?"
"I'm not making a patent. I'm making a model. It's nearly completed. The strike in the shops is holding me back with it. Curse these strikes."
"Oh, they bust 'em up mighty quick. There hasn't been a big one on since Debs engineered his and Cleveland called out the troops."
"Boy, you wait a few years and you'll see a strike that will paralyse you. Look at these teamsters. They're powerful now. They'll get licked, but they'll come back. When the next big money panic comes—it'll be in my day, too—you'll see the streets of Chicago running with blood. These fellows will go after the rich, and they'll get 'em. You will live to see the day when women who wear diamonds around their throats will have harsh, horny ringers there instead. There will be rich men's blood on every paving stone and beautiful necks will be slit with less mercy than marked the French butchery years ago. That's my prophecy. Some day you'll recall it to mind, especially if you happen to become very prosperous. It's bound to come. Now get out. I have a lot of writing to do." Eddie snickered.
"What will the law be doing all this time?"
"Bosh! The law can't even capture Mrs. Cable's assailant. Do you know what the human lust for blood is? Take an enraged man, doesn't he hunger for blood? He wants to kill and he does kill. Well, he is but an atom—an individual. Now, can you imagine what it will mean when a whole class of people, men and women, are forced to one common condition—the lust for blood? The individual lusts, and so will the mass. The rage of the mass will be the same as the fury of the individual. It will be just like one tremendous man of many parts rioting for—-"
The outer door opened suddenly and an old gentleman entered.
"Is Mr. Bansemer here?" he asked, removing his silk hat nervously.
"Yes, Mr. Watts. I'll tell him you are here."
Watts, the banker, confronted Bansemer a moment later, an anxious, hunted look in his eyes. John Watts was known as one of the meanest men in the city. No one had bested him in a transaction of any kind. As hard as nails and as treacherous as a dog, he was feared alike by man and woman.
Watts, perhaps for the first time in his self-satisfied life, was ready to bow knee to a fellow-man. A certain young woman had fallen into the skilful hands of Counsellor James Bansemer, and Mr. Watts was jerked up with a firmness that staggered him.
"Mr. Bansemer, I have come in to see if this thing can't be settled between us. I don't want to go into court. My wife and daughters won't understand that it's a case of blackmail on the part of this woman. Let's come to terms."
Bansemer smiled coolly. It was impossible to resist the temptation to toy with him for a while, to humble and humiliate this man who had destroyed hundreds in his juggernaut ride to riches. Skilfully he drew the old man out. He saw the beads of perspiration on hit, brow and heard the whine come from his voice. Then, in the end, he sharply changed his tactics,
"See here, Watts, you've got a wrong impression of this affair. I don't like your inferences. I am not asking you for a cent. I wouldn't take it. You have just offered me $25,000 to drop the affair. That's an insult to my integrity. I've investigated this girl's claim pretty thoroughly and I believe she is trying to fleece you. I have given up the case. None of that sort of thing for me. She'll go to some unscrupulous lawyer, no doubt, but I am out of it. I don't handle that kind of business. You have insulted me. Get out of my office, sir, and never enter it again."
"Give me that in writing," began the wily banker, but Bansemer had called to Droom. Eddie Deever was standing near the door, almost doggedly curious.
"Show Mr. Watts the door, and if he ever comes here again call the police. He has tried to bribe me."
Watts departed in a dazed sort of way and Droom closed the door.
"Are you still here?" he demanded of Eddie Deever in such a manner that the young man lost no time in leaving.
"There goes twenty-five thousand," said Bansemer, with a cold grin.
"I guess you can afford to lose it," muttered Droom. "It was slick, I suppose, but it's probably too late to help."
"Have you telephoned to Graydon?"
"Change of heart?"
"Change of mind."
"That's so. You haven't any heart."
Bansemer was not losing his courage; it was only the dread of having Graydon find out. He stuck close to his office, seeing but few people. However, he did saunter into Rigby's office for a friendly chat, but learned nothing from, the manner of that astute young man. With a boldness that astonished himself—and he was at no time timid—he asked if Harbert intended to remain in Chicago for any length of time. After he had gone away, Rigby rubbed his forehead in a bewildered sort of way and marvelled at the nerve of the man.
The day passed slowly; but late in the afternoon the suspense became so keen that he found it difficult to keep himself from making inquiries of the proper officials as to whether affidavits had been filed by Harbert or any other person. His hand did not shake now, but there was a steady pain at the back of his head.
"Droom, I think I'll go home. If I don't appear in the morning, you'll know that I'm at some police station. Good-day!"
"Good-bye!" said Elias, with correcting emphasis. Bansemer laughed heartily.
"I believe you'd like to see me jugged."
"Not unless you could be convicted. I'll have to remain in your employ until then, I suppose."
"I've often wondered why you don't quit of your own accord—it seems so distasteful to you."
"I'm working for you from force of habit."
"You'll turn State's evidence if I'm arrested, no doubt, curse you."
"If my word counted for anything," and he raised his hand; "I'd say—'So help me-I shan't."
"I've never been able to understand you."
"I guess you've always understood my feelings towards you."
"You hate me?"
"I'm no exception to the rule."
"But hang you, you're faithful?"
"Oh, I'll pay for it, never fear. You won't hesitate to sacrifice me if it will help you in any way. But, let me tell you something. Elias Droom has been smart enough to cover every one of his tracks, even if he hasn't been able to cover yours. I can't perform miracles. You don't seem as keen to bring about the family explosion as you were, I observe."
"By heavens, I can't bear the thought of that boy—oh, well, close up the office as soon as you like."
After he was safely out of the office Elias Droom glided into the private office, drew forth his bunch of keys and opened his employer's desk. A big revolver lay in the top drawer. The old clerk quickly removed the five cartridges and as deftly substituted a new set of them in their stead. The new ones were minus the explosive power. He grinned as he replaced the weapon and closed the desk. Dropping the cartridges into his coat pocket, he returned to his own desk, chuckling as he set to work on his papers.
"I won't betray him to the law, but I've fixed it so that he can't escape it in that way."
Bansemer's man informed him upon his arrival home that Mr. Graydon would not be in for dinner. He had left word that Mrs. Cable was very much improved and that he and Miss Cable were going out for a long drive-in a hansom. It was his intention to dine with Mr. and Miss Cable, very informally.
Bansemer sat in surly silence for a long time, trying to read. A fierce new jealousy was growing in his heart. It was gradually dawning upon him that the Cables had alienated his son's affections to no small degree. The fear grew upon him that Graydon ultimately would go over to them, forgetting his father in the love for the girl. Resentment, strong and savage, flooded his heart. He could eat no dinner. He was full of curses for the fate which forced him to dine alone while his son was off rejoicing with people whom he was beginning to hate with a fervour that pained him. Jealousy, envy, malice, fired his blood.
He went out and bought the evening papers. The thought came to him that Graydon had heard the stories and was deliberately staying away from him. Perhaps the Cables had been talking to him.
"By Heaven," he grated as he paused in front of his home, "if she's turned him against me I'll turn this city into anything but a paradise for her. What a fool I've been to wait so long. I've given her the chance to tell her side of the case first. She's made the first impression. What could I have been thinking of? Droom was right. I should have demanded less of her. A man is never too old to be a fool about women. Oh, if she's turned that boy against me, I'll—-"
He did not finish the threat, but started off swiftly through the night toward the Cable home. He had no especial object in view; it was simply impossible for him to conquer the impulse to be near his son. Like a thief he lurked about the street in the vicinity of Cable's house, standing in the shadows, crossing and recrossing the street many times, always watching the lighted windows with hateful eyes. It was after eight o'clock and the night was damp with the first breath of spring. There was a slight chill in the air, but he did not feel it, although he was without an overcoat.
The lights on the second floor, he knew, were in Mrs. Cable's room. In his mind's eye, he could see Graydon there with the others listening to the story as it fell from prejudiced, condemning lips—the pathetic, persuasive lips of a sick woman. He knew the effect on the chivalrous nature of his son; he could feel the coldness that took root in his boy's heart.
A light mist began to blow in his face as he paced back and forth along the short block in which the Cables lived. He was working his imagination up to a state bordering on frenzy. In his fancy he could hear Graydon cursing him in the presence of his accusers. At the end of the street he could see the break in the sea wall where Cable and his wife had met, and he could not help wishing that Droom had not pulled her from the water. Then he found himself wondering if they had told Jane the story of her origin. The hope that she was still undeceived flashed through him; it would give him a chance for sweet revenge.
He confessed to himself that he was reckless. The transactions of the past few days had left him at the edge of the abyss; he recognised his peril, but could not see beyond his own impulses.
"I believe I'll do it," he was muttering to himself as he paused across the street from their door. "Graydon ought to hear both sides of the story."
He crossed the street with hesitating steps. His thin coat collar was buttoned close about his neck; his gloveless hands were wet and cold from the mist. As he stopped at the foot of the stone steps a man came hurrying along, glancing at the house numbers as he approached.
"Do you know whether this is David Cable's house?" he asked.
Bansemer saw that he was a young man and an eager one.
"I think it is."
The other bounded up the steps and rang the bell. When the servant opened the door Bansemer heard the new arrival ask for Cable, adding that he was from one of the newspapers, and that he must see him at once.
Bansemer stood stark and dumb at the foot of the steps. The whole situation had rushed upon him like an avalanche. Harbert had filed his charges and the hasty visit of the reporter proved that David Cable was an instrument in them. The blood surged to his head; he staggered under the shock of increased rage.
"Graydon is against me! They've won him over! Open the door, damn you! I want my son!" He shouted the demand in the face of the startled servant as he pushed rudely past him.
"You stay here, young fellow, and you'll hear a story that will fill a whole paper. I am James Bansemer. Where is Cable? You!" to the servant.
"Sh!" cried the frightened servant, recognising him. "Mrs. Cable is resting, sir."
"What are you doing here?" Bansemer demanded of the reporter, exerting all his crafty resourcefulness in the effort to calm himself.
"Cable has been elected president of the—-" began the young man just as Cable himself started down the stairway.
"Cable, where is my son?" demanded Bansemer loudly, starting toward the steps. He had not removed his hat and was, indeed, an ominous figure. Cable clutched the stair rail and glared down at him in amazement. Before he could pull himself together sufficiently to reply, Graydon Bansemer hurried past him and stared in alarm at the unexpected figure below.
"What's the matter, dad?" he cried. "What. has happened?"
"Aha? You think something could have happened, eh? Damn all of their souls, you shan't be taken in by them. Come down here, boy!"
"Father, are you crazy?" gasped Graydon, rushing down the stairs.
"Get him away from here, Graydon, for God's sake," exclaimed Cable. "Take him away! He's your father, but if he stays in this house a minute longer I'll kill him!"
The man from the newspaper was shrewd enough to withdraw into a less exposed spot. He saw a great "beat" in prospect.
Graydon stopped as if stunned by a blow. Bobby Rigby came running to the head of the stairs, followed by Jane and another young woman. James Bansemer could not have been expected to know it, but Rigby and Miss Clegg had come to tell these friends that they were to be married in December.